Keep Your Child Healthy This Winter
Things to know about common winter illnesses
As the cold weather arrives, cold and flu season is upon us once again. School-age children are particularly susceptible to the spread of colds, viral and bacterial infections, and the flu. These common illnesses can actually be spread to other children before you even realize that your child is sick. There are some simple steps from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that you can take to try and keep your child healthy this winter.
Treating and preventing the cold and flu
- Recognize the symptoms. Colds are most contagious during the first couple of days, so it is important to look out for and recognize the symptoms. These include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a cough, and a headache. In some cases your child may have a mild fever. These symptoms can persist for up to ten days. If your child does not seem to be getting better after this time, make an appointment with his pediatrician.
- Differentiate between a cold and the flu. The cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses, so it is difficult to tell them apart. People with the flu general have the same symptoms as those with a cold, but they feel worse. They may also be very tired, experience body aches and stomach symptoms (especially children), and have a fever. The flu can be diagnosed by a doctor and in some cases treated with antiviral medication.
- Stop if before it starts. The cold and flu can spread easily among children, especially those in school or childcare. It is important to teach your child to use proper hygiene in the home and at school. Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds (or long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”) after playing outside, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing his nose. Children should only use alcohol-based hand rubs under supervision; make sure your child rubs his hands until the product has dried. Infants and toddlers should never use these products. Tell your child to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue if he has to sneeze, and to throw dirty tissues in the trash. Make sure you clean toys or other items your child brings to and from school.
- Get vaccinated. Children six months to 5 years of age are considered high risk for complications from the flu. The best way to prevent your child from getting the flu is to get her vaccinated. The more common type of vaccination is the flu shot, but a nasal spray flu vaccine is also available to certain people. Ask your child’s pediatrician what the best option for her is. Generally, the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, but it is still beneficial to get one. Click here to find a list of flu clinics in your town. If you live in the Boston area, click here to find a list of free clinics in the month of January.
- Soothe a sore throat. Sometimes, your child may develop a sore throat along with a cold. This is usually caused by a viral infection, and should go away in a few days. If a sore throat persists longer than this, or if your child has difficulty swallowing, swollen glands, discharge when he coughs, or blisters in his throat, call his pediatrician. By taking a throat culture, a doctor can determine if your child has strep throat or a viral infection that needs to be treated. For a minor cough or sore throat, over the counter syrups are available, and food such as popsicles may be soothing and feel good to eat.
- Make it better. It is a common myth that consuming a large amount of Vitamin C can prevent colds. Studies have failed to prove this. However, Vitamin C may help to relieve symptoms or lessen the duration of a cold. Stuffy noses cause the body to lose water. Give your child plenty of water and juice to keep her hydrated. Make sure your child is eating small but healthy meals and snacks, even if she is not hungry. Chicken or vegetable soup, rice, and pasta are all good sources of energy and nutrition. Monitor your child’s symptoms, especially his temperature. Use a humidifier or vaporizer if your child’s nose is very stuffy. You can give your child the appropriate dosage of acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve fever or aches and pains. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have symptoms of the flu, especially fever, without consulting a doctor.
- Give a little TLC. If your child has cold or flu symptoms and even a mild fever, keep him home until he has been without a fever for at least 24 hours. Even if he does not have a fever, he may not have much energy, may not be sleeping well, and may just want or need to rest and be taken care of. Whenever possible, keep your child at home and let him get plenty of rest.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu
This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.
Healthy Kids, Happy Kids